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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 14:18 GMT
UN backs Palestinian state
Israeli soldiers conducting house-to-house searches in Ramallah
Israel has tightened its grip on Ramallah
The United Nations Security Council has for the first time passed a resolution calling for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The US-drafted document "affirming a vision" of a Palestinian state was backed by 14 out of 15 members of the Security Council, with the abstention of Syria.

It's an advance for the resistance of the Palestinian people

Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Palestinian Authority
The Palestinians praised the move, while Israel said it welcomed a "balanced" resolution.

It came as three Palestinians and a foreign journalist were reported to have died in fighting in Ramallah on Wednesday, as Israel tightened its grip on the West Bank city.

The UN resolution demanded "immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including terror, provocation, incitement and destruction" and urged Israel and the Palestinians to take steps towards resuming peace talks.

It was the first resolution on the conflict that the United States - Israel's staunchest ally - had introduced since fighting erupted in September 2000.

Two states

The UN said it was "affirming a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognised borders".

[A balanced resolution] is quite a novelty for Israel in the Security Council

Yehuda Lancry, Israeli UN ambassador

The Secretary General of the Palestinian Authority, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, said the resolution marked "an advance for the resistance of the Palestinian people".

Israel's UN Ambassador Yehuda Lancry said he welcomed a "balanced" Security Council resolution on the Middle East, which he called "a rare and remarkable" occurrence.

Earlier, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan delivered his toughest statement yet on the violence.

Mr Annan condemned Palestinian suicide attacks as "morally repugnant" and said he was "profoundly disturbed" by Israel's use of heavy weaponry in civilian areas.

Offensive continues

A day after launching its biggest offensive in 20 years, Israeli tanks and troops remained in the Palestinians' main West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday.

Palestinian security sources said two Palestinians were killed in fighting with Israeli troops in the city's al-Manara district, near Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters.

Raffaele Ciriello
Mr Ciriello was the first journalist killed in the conflict

The deputy commander of Mr Arafat's Force-17 bodyguard, Abu Fadih, was among those who died, the Palestinians said.

A Palestinian civilian died when his car was hit by Israeli tank fire in the Beitunya district, according to Palestinian sources.

An Italian freelance photographer, named as Raffaele Ciriello, was also killed after being shot by Israeli tank fire - the first journalist to die in the conflict.

The Italian foreign ministry has asked Israel to investigate Mr Ciriello's death.

Peace mission

The continuing violence threatens to wreck an upcoming mission by US peace envoy Anthony Zinni to achieve a truce between the two sides.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat warned his patience was wearing thin

The Palestinian Authority said on Wednesday a ceasefire with Israel would be impossible so long as Israeli forces were in Palestinian areas.

"This would be a kind of capitulation," Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abbed Rabbo told Reuters news agency.

Mr Zinni is due to arrive in Israel on Thursday, along with US Vice President Dick Cheney, who is on a tour of the Middle East.

Israel says it has gone into Palestinian territory to hunt down militants responsible for a wave of recent suicide bombings inside Israel.

In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica published on Wednesday, Yasser Arafat said his patience was wearing thin, but he said he had not yet ordered his forces to retaliate against Israel.

The BBC's Paul wood
"It was an historic decision by the UN"
Israeli government spokesman Arye Mekel
"We have no intention of staying in Ramallah"
The BBC's James Reynolds
"We now have for the first time the word 'Palestine' being used in a Security Council resolution"
See also:

12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Annan appeal brings mixed response
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Six Israelis killed in gun attack
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Israel goes in hard
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Controversy over 'execution' pictures
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: 'You can just be fired on'
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